Artist of the Month: Deborah Crossman

Peckers (pastel, 14×23) by Deborah Crossman was an Experimental finalist in the 24th Annual Art Competition. Crossman is our December 2008 Artist of the Month.

Residence: Bethel, Connecticut


Start in art: Art was something that I naturally gravitated to as a young person. Although I had an innate ability, I never really decided to pursue art seriously until I was 27. I left my job as a sixth-grade teacher to get an MFA in illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design. The program helped me understand how to combine images and tell a story with my art. I’m now a full time artist. I really enjoyed teaching, but I always felt as though I would regret not devoting more time to my art.

Media and genres: I work primarily in pastel. There are so many things that I love about the medium, such as its textural qualities, color saturation and immediacy. I also love pastel’s capacity for detail, which hasn’t been explored by many pastelists. Historically, pastel has been used as an expressive and spontaneous medium. The work of classical pastelists, such as Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, are characterized by broad, linear strokes applied in a seemingly nervous pattern of application. My method of application, however, is quite different. I enjoy blending and manipulating the pastel to achieve a seamless quality. I like the smooth, saturated look of oil paintings, and I strive to create that same effect in pastel.

Because of the amount of detail in my work, I use a lot of pastel pencils. I prefer Derwent because the cores tend to be softer than other brands. I use NuPastels for my basecoats and then build up with pastel pencils.

Most of the work that I’m currently doing is wildlife-related. I recently began a series of conceptual pieces that involve birds. I’m fascinated by the visual metaphors that can be drawn from them.

Inspiration for this painting: I once dreamed I was walking through a room full of eggs hanging from strings. Many of them were numbered and broken. I used the dream as the basis for Peckers, which is about critics and the fragility of the artistic spirit. The woodpecker represents the critics—not just of the artistic kind, but rather all the people who break us down in life. The eggs represent various people and years in my life.

Her process: I work primarily from photographs. For Peckers I had to do a lot of research on bird eggs because I didn’t have any actual eggs available to me. Because there are so many elements to this piece, I made a lot of preliminary sketches. I cut my sketches into pieces and moved them around before deciding on this layout. After I knew what the piece was going to look like, I made a contour line drawing in charcoal on museum grade mat board. I like working on mat board because it’s much more rigid and forgiving than pastel paper but it’s still archival. Once the layout was in place I began laying down the pastel. I never work the entire piece as a whole. I always finish one area before moving on.

I usually spend two weeks to a month on a typical piece. The way I use pastel is very time-consuming. I don’t layer the entire piece as most pastelists do; I inch my way across the paper. I spent two and a half months on Peckers, and it still fell short of my vision. I have plans to redo it in the future. I really love the concept, but I feel as though it’s lacking visual depth.

Why she creates art: Because my life doesn’t feel complete unless I’m creating.

I used to not able to run in my dreams. It always felt as though I was running in slow motion or running in water. After I finished my MFA, I began to run in my dreams for the first time.

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